Staying Negative aims to emotionally engage, inspire and facilitate imagination in sexual health practices. The campaign profiles the real life stories of gay, bisexual and trans men who have sex with men (MSM). Men talk about all aspects of their life from coming out, relationships, sexuality and a broad range of other topics. While HIV and safe sex is an important part of all stories, it is not the exclusive focus.
Prior HIV prevention campaigns have traditionally focused on providing gay men with information that will encourage them to adopt safe sex behaviours. In reality, safe sex practices are influenced by a whole range of environmental and cultural factors. The campaign also provides an opportunity for HIV positive men to talk about their lives and discuss how their strategies to staying HIV negative were not successful. We understand that there is more than one way practice safe sex and adopt healthcare seeking behaviours, so let's be creative about it!
There are no real criteria for participants other than that they are MSM and happy to have their stories appear as part of the campaign. In addition to the personal stories, the website provides information on HIV/AIDS, sexual health, relationships and broad of the other relevant topics including domestic violence, drugs and alcohol and depression.
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I was born in Melbourne and grew up in a very ordinary family. My Dad was a tiler and my Mum was a housewife. I've got two sisters. When I was growing up, particularly from when I was about twelve or thirteen I started to realise that I was different from other guys, in the sense that I knew I was attracted to men. And I wasn't all that fabulous at sport and all that sort of thing...
There used to be a magazine called Post: it had mostly pictures of women in bikinis and sensational stories and, right in the very back pages, there used to be these little classified ads and one of the ads was for Glenwarren men's underwear - it was only tiny. All my friends used to want to get their Dad's copy of Post so they could look at all the girls in their bikinis and all I wanted to do was look at this tiny picture at the back of this guy in his underwear.
I also wanted to play Strip Jack Naked with my mates because I wanted to fool around. I can remember playing Strip Jack Naked with a friend; both of us with these massive erections and not doing anything about it. We drifted apart after school and the next time I saw him was in a sauna so clearly he turned out gay...
Another boy and I were good friends also and I know now that he's gay but I didn't know at the time; we didn't explore that with each other. Anyway, it's interesting that two of my best friends were actually gay and I didn't know.
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I knew what I felt with regards to my attraction to men but I just constantly tried to suppress it because there was no discussion about it, no awareness, and I was probably fairly naïve. In fact I can remember the school captain at one stage telling me I was camp and I told him, no, that our family used a caravan when we went on holidays - I didn't even know what he was talking about!
I left school and went to work and it was all pretty ordinary. Life went on and I met the woman that I married. I was doing a Diploma of Hotel Catering Management at William Angliss and so was she. We met and got on well as friends and I asked her to marry me. We went out a few times on dates and that sort of thing. I must have been about 24-25 and I know the rationale behind it was a combination of hiding my sexuality and also of wanting to be the same as everyone else. It was certainly never, “Oh, I'll involve this person in my web of lies and harm her” It was just about trying to be the same as everyone else.
So I got married and got a house and had children and it was all very normal and it was all that I knew. I was never, ever in love with her and I never felt sexually attracted to her, but we had good times together too. We have two children, one who's 21 and another who's thirteen. We also had a lot of trouble having children; my wife had quite a few miscarriages and we lost a child very early in the piece...
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My first sexual experience with a man was probably all over in about thirty seconds because I felt so guilty about it. It was such a furtive thing. I had this burning need and whichever way I filled that need, which might be going to a beat or a sauna - this was before I got married - there would be the build up to it and as soon as I came I was out of there. Afterwards I felt terribly guilty, worried and concerned, so it wasn't a very nice experience overall.
I'd die if I did this now, but when I was sixteen there was a toilet block near the local library and I knew what went on there. I got in there and this guy - he seemed very old at the time but he was probably thirty or something - said to me to come back to his place. So I got in his car and went back to his place, which in hindsight is just so stupid because I didn't know what was going to happen.
I remember he had this enormous dick with this huge head on it like a mushroom and I was just transfixed by it. I got all my clothes off and got in the bedroom but the phone rang and he sat talking on the phone to a friend. Here was this momentous occasion in my life and he's chatting on the phone! Anyway, needless to say, I came within about 30 seconds of him coming near me and then I wanted to go home.
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In my marriage we had sex occasionally, but it was never fantastic. I had this constant scenario where the need to have male-to-male sex became increasingly urgent and about once a month I'd find some way of doing that, which would be a beat or a sauna. I didn't have any friends or contacts who were gay. Sometimes I'd use male prostitutes. I always felt enormous guilt because of the marriage.
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I was married just over twenty years. I came out when my wife actually asked me if I was gay. She'd been seeing a psychologist or a psychiatrist - I can't remember which - because she was feeling depressed. To be honest, the only reason the marriage lasted so long is the fact that I was gay. I felt like it was my role to keep everything together now that we had two children. She was going off to get help because she felt emotionally unwell and obviously when she spoke to the psychologist or whatever he was about our relationship they had actually said to her, “Have you ever asked him if he's gay?” She'd never thought about that. And so she asked me. And I said, “Yes, I am”.
If there's anything I‘m grateful to her for it's for asking me that because, unintentionally, she probably did me the biggest favour she's ever done! She had asked me once a long time before. I'd buy some gay pornography occasionally and as soon as I'd gone through it I'd throw it out because I didn't want to be caught with it. For some reason she found it once, in the rubbish bin out the front of the house - the trash had actually been put out. She asked me about it and I came up with some stupid story about why it was in there and she believed me. It was a pity that I didn't take that opportunity to tell her the truth, but I wasn't ready.
The second time she asked me - the time I actually told her - I wasn't far from telling her myself because I'd reached a point in my life where I think I wouldn't have continued living my life. I would rather have ended my life than keep on going the way I was going.
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Having been out for six years now I've come to realise that, for me, my sexual orientation is not a huge thing. It was only a huge thing for me when I was closeted - and then it was enormous. But now I've been living as an out gay man. I'm out at work, I'm out to everyone.
Once I came out to her it didn't really matter; I came out to everyone. Compared to the consequences of having the family split up, the financial separation and your whole world changing, everything else was of no consequence. I also thought, I'm not going to live like that ever, ever, ever again! I'm never going to be in a situation where I'm hiding stuff or I'm not who I am.
Of course, at the time, when it was happening, it was difficult. Things were changing and there was lots of anger and anguish, but that moves on too. And now I know I'm happy to be gay. I am who I am and I don't want to be anything else. It becomes a lot less of an issue once it's out there, because it's only a part of who you are. When you're not out it's a massive part of who you are; when you are out it's only a small part of who you are.
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I was about 30 when I first heard about AIDS. It was all the scaremongering stuff that was out there, the Grim Reaper and all that stuff. I'd read about the symptoms in the paper and for ages I thought I had HIV - because I had sex with men. It didn't matter that I didn't have anal sex and wasn't having any exchange of body fluids that could actually have resulted in transmission but there was all this fear and I imagined myself having the symptoms - the night sweats and all that sort of thing.
The very thought of even being in the room with someone with HIV would have been frightening to me back then, because I just didn't know anything. Today I'm well informed about the manner of transmission and someone else being HIV positive wouldn't have any effect on me, except to make me care about their health. I have friends I care deeply about who are HIV positive and I'm not worried about sharing food with them or sleeping with them or anything like that.
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I'm not entirely single! I've been going out with a guy for about twelve months now and we've been living together for the past four months. He's very sweet. It's my first relationship so I've been enjoying that. I met him on the internet, which I thought never really happened for people who want to have a relationship.
I'm not into casual sex. I've done that and during the time I was married all the sex I had was quick and furtive and casual. I certainly don't judge other people for what they want but I know that for me the opportunity to have a relationship outweighs great sex - if you can have both that would be fantastic.
Michael and I met on the internet. We got to know each other and it's really lovely having someone who cares deeply about you and does nice things for you and all that sort of thing.
We had two dates before we had sex. The first date we met we had lunch in the city so it probably wouldn't have been very practical to have sex! For the second date we went out for dinner and maybe we had sex on the second date...yeah, I think he stayed over the second night. We didn't start fucking until a few months later. Everyone's got their own way of approaching things and for me it's very intimate. I always imagined it was something I'd do with someone I cared for deeply and who cared for me deeply. It was important for me to have that as a part of how I'd really enjoy it. We still use condoms: we've talked about 'The Four T's' and everything: I actually raised the subject and he is very happy to do that - we just haven't had the chance to get down to the doctors and get tested together.
He doesn't try to monopolise me or dominate me. I finished a course a little while ago and all the people who did the course together decided to go out to dinner together. My younger daughter was staying over with me so I asked him if he'd mind looking after my daughter while I went out for dinner! It's a pretty big ask of someone but he said no he didn't mind at all.
He took her to the movies that afternoon and they dropped me at the restaurant and I didn't find out until the next morning that he'd taken her to the supermarket where they bought a whole lot of stuff and baked me a cake for Fathers Day. She brought the cake up to me the next morning, all very proud of it as she'd decorated it herself.
He'd also got all the ingredients and done all the preparation for her to make me dinner that night for Fathers Day. He's just very sweet and thoughtful and the way he interacts with my daughters at their different ages is very important to me. If I was going out with someone who couldn't accommodate the fact that I have children it wouldn't work. I love my children; they're not my whole life but they're certainly an important part.
I've been to a couple of his family functions and I've felt very welcome. The weekend before last I went to his niece's 21'st birthday in Adelaide. We flew over there for the weekend and when his niece was introducing me to her friends she said, "This is my Uncle Michael and this is his partner". It was nice feeling so included. They were taking the family photograph - he's got ten brothers and sisters so it's a pretty big family - and they asked me to come in to the photo so that sort of level of inclusion was great.
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We discussed our HIV status a couple of months ago. All the facilitation work I've done at the VAC paid off - I do actually use what I've learnt there, in the Relationships workshops, for example. I remember thinking, “I want to talk about this”, so I brought it up in the same way they suggest bringing it up in the Relationships workshops. And he said, “I'm really glad you brought it up. “
I think it would be nice to both get tested and be able to stop using condoms together. I'd like the level of intimacy and spontaneity that not using condoms allows - and the sheer pleasure of it.
I imagine in years gone by when HIV wasn't an issue that if people enjoyed anal sex they wouldn't have thought about it the same way, but because of HIV there's a much higher level of trust that needs to be there in not using condoms together. I think not using condoms with your partner delivers a level of intimacy simply because it's related to trust. I wouldn't have unprotected anal sex with anyone with whom I couldn't have that level of trust after going through the processes of talking and testing and everything. Not using condoms is also about spontaneity - it would be nice not to have to stop and do the whole condom thing in the middle of it all...
I get tested for HIV and STIs once every six months or so. I just see it as part of my routine. I've been pretty unlucky: I've had anal warts which are awful! I didn't even know what they were until I got them. And I've had crabs. I see a wonderful doctor at the Gay Men's Health Clinic in St Kilda.
There are a number of people who have been influential in changes that I've made in my life. You make changes yourself but I think people influence you or help you along the road. Asvin in Peer Education at the VAC was one of them. What I experienced in Momentum was enormous; it was life-changing for me and that's why I feel so passionately about the peer education unit of the VAC.
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My doctor is another person who's made an enormous difference. I was quite overweight and very unfit and quite unwell and I'd been going along to a normal suburban doctor for a long time. The doctor just used to give me tablets and I had hypertension and high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes and the classic things that go along with being unwell and overweight.
I decided I needed to change doctors because this wasn't working. I'd found out about the gay men's health clinic through my involvement with the VAC so I thought I'd go down there. I just made an appointment; I didn't know who I as going to see. He talked with me - he actually listened to me. We had a long conversation and he actually said to me, “You can choose to do something about this; you've made changes in your life, now you can make some changes in your health.” He said, “Have you ever thought of getting a personal trainer?” I said I'd never even thought of exercising let alone have a personal trainer, but I'd check it out. So he gave me the card of this personal trainer. I rang him and saw him and discovered that he wasn't threatening like I thought he'd be.
The rest is history: I lost about 50 kilos and now my life is just totally different. I passionately love being well and exercising. I credit my doctor with introducing me to that and also with being very supportive along the way. When I'd go back to see him and my statistics were all improving, he was so genuinely excited. He said that 1,000 people might get in here who should be doing it what I was doing but he said I was his star pupil because I was the one actually doing it; the one actually achieving it.
Steve my trainer, is also fantastic and possibly the world's best trainer. As I've learnt more I've realised just how lucky I was to get him rather than someone who takes a one-size-fits-all approach.
I'd like to overcome my last hurdle health-wise which is to give up smoking. What I've allowed myself is to take things in steps. When I was overweight I used to think I'd stop everything all at the same time and so I'd fuck something up within ten minutes of waking up and then I'd give up everything. Now I've allowed myself to take things in stages and for me the hardest thing has been giving up smoking. But I know I'm getting to a point where I will want to do it.
Peter is a born and bred Melbourne guy.